THE ASAHI SHIMBUN
“The Cove,” an examination of a bloody dolphin hunt, won the Academy Award for best documentary feature Sunday to the anger and dismay of residents of the coastal community where the film was made.
Directed by Louie Psihoyos, the controversial U.S. film was shot in the coastal town of Taiji, Wakayama Prefecture.
The filmmaker employed hidden cameras and microphones because the local fishing cooperative would not allow the camera crew access to the cove where the dolphins were slaughtered.
Local residents were incensed that their faces were filmed without approval while hidden footage was taken of dolphins being killed.
A 35-year-old homemaker whose grandfather had worked on a whaling ship said: “We have eaten whale and dolphin meat for generations. I don’t understand why the film singles out the dolphin hunt for such a negative reaction. I cannot believe it received an Oscar.”
Taiji Mayor Kazutaka Sangen and the local fishing cooperative issued a statement Monday morning that said: “There are elements in the movie that make false assertions not based on any scientific evidence as though it were the truth. It is important to possess a spirit of mutual respect after understanding the long traditions and actual circumstances surrounding the dietary culture of a region.”
Officials of the local fishing cooperative claim that some assertions in the movie are false, including one that dolphin meat was being sold as whale meat to hide the fact it was contaminated with mercury.
While there are plans to show the movie at about 20 theaters in Japan this summer, lawyers for the Taiji town hall and fishing cooperative said they would lobby for a cancellation.
Town officials demanded that the movie not be shown at the Tokyo International Film Festival last fall, but organizers went ahead with one showing.
Officials with Unplugged Inc., the distributor of “The Cove,” said changes would be made before the movie is screened in Japan. The faces of local residents would be scrambled and subtitles added at the end of the movie saying there are differences in studies about mercury levels and that Taiji town was opposed to elements of the movie.
Tokiya Nitta, a lecturer at the School of Marine Science and Technology at Tokai University who has studied the history of dolphin hunting along the Izu Peninsula of Shizuoka Prefecture, said the movie could strengthen the opinions of opponents of the practice.
“In Japan, there is a history of hunting the dolphins with feelings of gratitude and respect because it helped the Japanese when they were faced with famine because of the war,” Nitta said. “However, foreigners appear to only focus on the cruel reality of the hunt.”
Daisuke Onitsuka, a professor of American studies at Shizuoka Eiwa Gakuin University, said the visual impact of the movie was likely a major factor behind the winning of the Oscar.
“While it undoubtedly is a propaganda movie, I believe that overseas it is not the arguments of the movie that are being accepted, but the clash with the Taiji fishing cooperative and town officials that was viewed as being interesting,” Onitsuka said. “The main reason it was praised was the visual impact produced through the use of hidden cameras.”